Construction

Whitefox MD Darren Frias-Robles looks at the impact of nutrient neutrality on new developments

By Darren Frias-Robles [email protected]

Published: February 27, 2024 | Updated: 27th February 2024

In this month’s construction matters, Whitefox MD Darren Frias-Robles looks at new housing developments and their affect on natural watercourses, nutrient pollution, the implications for developers and solutions.

We also get to meet Assistant Quantity Surveyor, Josh Byrne and learn how he combines his studies with his job.

Nutrient neutrality

The issue of nutrient neutrality continues to affect proposed residential developments within catchment areas of rivers and lakes which have been identified at risk by the Environment Agency.

There remains a general lack of a national coherent strategy on dealing with this issue at planning stage which continues to prevent many developments from proceeding.

Those that do within these areas are often rendered unviable or the commercial viability is seriously affected by the financial contributions which are demanded to mitigate the likely increase in phosphorus and nitrates being discharged into said rivers and lakes as a consequence of the processing of additional sewage effluent which would arise from the proposed additional residential dwellings.

This article provides a brief insight into how this issue has arisen and what strategies are currently available to mitigate the problem.

Background

The EU Habitats Directive includes a requirement to consider the impact on water quality from discharges from developments. Any increase in nutrients in these waters (e.g from sewerage, farm runoff, etc) which adversely affect its ‘consented nutrient status’ must be prevented.

Consequently, planning guidance has been issued by Natural England for new developments in areas where rivers and lakes have high nitrate/phosphate levels to include a requirement to demonstrate that any proposed scheme is nutrient or ‘nitrate neutral’.

This guidance continues to be updated and the extent of areas affected grows as more natural watercourses are identified as being at risk.

It is fair to say that many local Authorities have struggled with the implementation of this directive.

The Local Government Association Planning Advisory Service (PAS) does provide helpful guidance to local authorities and industry including a helpful map of ‘Nutrient Neutrality Catchments’ that is their attempt to map those areas where proposed developments will be affected.

Source – https://www.local.gov.uk/pas/topics/environment/nutrient-neutrality-nn-and-planning-system

Nutrient pollution and development

Where natural watercourses are in an ‘unfavourable condition’ with existing high levels of phosphates and/or nitrates, extra wastewater from new housing developments can have a further detrimental effect on these areas.

When a planning application is submitted, a competent authority (usually the LPA or Environment Agency) must assess its impact on the environment. This assessment must ensure that the nitrate or phosphate levels in any affected watercourses is not worsened. The applicant must in effect demonstrate ‘nutrient neutrality’.

Implications for Developers

Developments planned in affected areas must consider their impact in terms of additional ‘nutrient load’ and consider how this will be mitigated. Possible solutions include:

  • building additional mitigation onsite (this is rare as will typically entail installing a local sewerage treatment plant or setting aside land to for natural habitat development),
  • arranging for mitigation offsite (typically this entails purchasing farmland upstream from the proposed development site and turning this into a wildlife area)
  • purchasing nutrient credits via a nutrient trading scheme

Examples of Solutions

1 – Mitigation

Allows developers to offset the impact of their proposed development by making a financial contribution to schemes that secure agricultural land and take them out of being intensively farmed thereby reducing the nitrates produced.

Example – Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Nitrate Reduction Programme

https://www.hiwwt.org.uk/reducing-nitrates-solent

2 – Solent Nutrient Market Pilot

Government backed pilot ‘nitrate trading’ auction platform focussed on South-East Hampshire. This is currently under development.

https://www.solentnutrientmarket.org.uk

3 – Offsetting Credits

Schemes that allow developers to buy credits to offset nitrates produced by a proposed development. For example, Eastleigh Borough Council currently presides over 238 hectares of mitigation land, worth a total of 11,354 credits (1 credit = 1 kilogram of nitrates per year). The cost per credit is £3000 + VAT. Plus their legal costs

https://www.eastleigh.gov.uk/planning-and-building/nutrient-offset-schemes

Pause on Development in Areas without mitigation Strategy

Sadly, development in some areas is currently suspended until those affected local authorities can implement a nutrient strategy. Until such time as this can be resolved no planning applications in these areas will be determined.

An Example of this is Cornwall Council & the River Camel catchment area where the Council has paused the granting of any new residential planning consents. Many developments are now on hold waiting for their strategic mitigation strategy.

Temporary pause on development in the River Camel Special Area of Conservation – Cornwall Council

Conclusion

The issue of Nutrient Neutrality is important to safeguard our rivers, lakes, estuaries and harbours that we all enjoy. The problem is that there remains a lack of a clear national strategy on how this can be achieved whilst allowing developments providing much needed new homes to progress.

There are solutions available in some areas and some local authorities are further ahead than others. One ray of light could be the prospect that existing sewerage treatment plants could be upgraded thereby reducing the existing nutrient load being discharged. If this were rolled out, it would create additional ‘nutrient capacity’ for additional development.

***

Josh Byrne, Assistant Quantity Surveyor – Q & A

  • Tell us  about your background and how you ended up in this role?

I came out of sixth form knowing I wanted some sort of role in finance and did not want to go to university full time, so my best option was an apprenticeship. I came across Quantity Surveying from people I knew who had gone into apprenticeships in Surveying and had heard only positive words about the industry, so I started looking for companies hiring and stumbled across Whitefox through them crossing paths with my father’s line of work.

  • Currently you’re studying at Portsmouth university alongside/ in combination with this role at Whitefox. How do you manage your time between work and studies? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while working and studying simultaneously ?

I try and squeeze as much as I can in on my day release for university, and then I am studying when I get home from work as well. This is to try to keep my weekends free. The main challenge is balancing work, uni and my social life.

  • What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned so far?

The most interesting thing in the office space is how to put together a cost plan for building projects, and how to quantify certain elements of a building.

I’m currently involved with a project called Brewers Quay in Weymouth and seeing the difference in construction over the last 100 years is amazing.

  • If you weren’t doing this role, what do you think you might have been doing in an alternate reality?

Something to do with football/ sports. I would have loved to have been a professional athlete.

  • Who has had the biggest impact/influence on you career or personal life (can be either one)?

In my personal life it would have to be my parents.

  • What’s your favourite way to spend your days off?

 

  • Walking the dog with my family
  • A round of golf
  • Watching the football
  • Going out for meals

 

  • If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Seychelles and/ or Machu Pichu.

  • Do you have any books or podcast recommendations that you listen too? Or if not this then any music?

High Performance Podcast is good to hear insights of different sporting personalities.

  •  Lastly, What’s the one thing you’d like to do and/or achieve in the next 12 Months that you’ve never done before? Any goals?

A hole in one.

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